IGF 2018 WS #211 Technology, Suicide, and the Mental Health of Youth

Format: 

Panel - 90 Min

Organizer 1: Jeff Collins, After School
Organizer 2: Larry Magid, ConnectSafely.org

Speaker 1: Jeffrey Collins, Private Sector, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 2: Karuna Nain, Private Sector, Asia-Pacific Group
Speaker 3: Zane Wilson, Civil Society, African Group
Speaker 4: Carlos Gomez-Restrepo, Government, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)
Speaker 5: Yasuyuki Shimuzu, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group

Relevance: 

An increasingly loud global narrative is promoting the idea that the internet in general, and social media in particular, is addictive, harmful to mental health, and closely related to a rise in suicides, especially among young people. This narrative is demanding legislative and policy changes to address the issue. But only by turning down the “noise” and examining the issue objectively will we be able to develop helpful products and sound policies governing technology and mental health. Suicide indeed is a global epidemic that is on the rise. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that each year approximately one million people die from suicide, which represents a global mortality rate of 16 people per 100,000 or one death every 40 seconds. It is predicted that by 2020 the rate of death will increase to one every 20 seconds. Among youths aged 15-29, suicide is the second leading cause of death globally. Mental health disorders (particularly depression and substance abuse) are associated with more than 90% of all cases of suicide. A careful review of academic research, however, reveals that internet use can have both positive and negatives effects on mental health and suicide rates. Studies have shown that self-harm/suicidal behavior is associated with obsessive internet use . There have also been cases where young people have taken their own lives after being cyberbullied, however most suicide experts agree that suicides are rarely associated with a single event or factor and the mere correlation between someone being cyberbullied and their committing suicide doesn’t prove that the bullying “caused” the suicide, At the same time, research has clarified that there are a number of potential benefits related to internet use, including crisis support, reduction of social isolation, delivery of therapy, and outreach. Studies note that young people, in particular, appear to be increasingly using social media to communicate distress and get support, particularly with peers. There are documented cases of people’s lives being saved because of the intervention of online friends or strangers who have witnessed their distress or suicidal intentions. It has never been more timely, and important, to explore what is working, what is not, and what more we can do, both individually and collectively, to harness the internet to reduce suicides and improve better mental health globally.

Session Content: 

This session will bring together a diverse panel of experts -- from Latin America, South Asia, Africa, Japan, and the United States -- to explore how the public, private, and non-profit sectors can minimize detrimental mental health impacts of internet-related technologies, while maximizing the benefits. Drawing on academic research and their own personal experiences, panelists will explore the connectivity between internet use and mental health, and discuss areas of promise, especially as they relate to young people. During an interactive, highly-conversational panel moderated by ConnectSafely CEO Larry Magid, panelists will delve into areas such as crisis text counseling, proactive monitoring/moderating using natural language processing, data science, active suicide prevention approaches, and methods of social media companies and nonprofits that partner with them to aid in preventing this epidemic from spreading. The audience will be encouraged to participate actively through several live polls, questions, and interventions. Following the panel, the organizing team will publish their conclusions along with a resource guide for internet-based teen-focused organizations and companies on how to handle sensitive issues related to mental health and suicide. Our aim is to make valuable resources available globally to help improve detection, access, and awareness with respect to at-risk teens.

Interventions: 

ConnectSafely CEO Larry Magid will introduce the issue and panelists. Each panelists will present a short (approximately 5-minute) overview of their work on the issue of teen mental health and suicide prevention. Magid will lead the panelists in a highly-conversational panel. Our goal is to generate creative thinking through active discussion. Private sector panelists from Facebook and After School will describe the challenges they face and promise they see in areas such as panelists crisis text counseling, proactive moderation, and data science. Other panelists will share their perspectives on how the government and social sector can contribute to progress, through public-private partnerships, targeted academic studies, and new technologies that harness the internet, connectivity, social media, and applications for good. All panelists will bring a global perspective to the discussion, based upon their individual heritage and professional backgrounds. Magid will encourage audience members to participate by submitting questions that he will incorporate into the discussion. Magid also will engage the audience in several live polls; panelists will share their observations on the poll results.

Diversity: 

The interrelation of internet use and youth mental health, to include suicide, is a global issue and must be treated as such. Our co-organizers and panelists will use their deep cross-cultural experience to ensure that the discussion considers global challenges and works toward global solutions. Larry Magid, a journalist and veteran internet safety advocate, is the CEO and Co-founder of ConnectSafely.org. His breadth of experience includes serving as member of the Safety Advisory Boards of Google, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and others, and working group chair on the Obama Administration's Online Safety and Technology Working Group. Magid will use his deep, diverse experience to guide panelists and audience member through this difficult but important topic, with the goal of spurring creating, problem-solving thinking and ideas. Jeff Collins has worked across the globe as a US diplomat, private sector executive, and non-profit founder, including in Turkey, Cuba, Iraq, Bolivia, Venezuela. His cross-cutting, multi-dimensional work has seen him defending human rights in these and other countries, including the protection of free speech from governmental censorship. In his current role, Collins focuses on how to use the After School app to improve youth wellness. Karuna Nain, Facebook's Global Safety Programs Manager, oversees developing and maintaining safety programs at scale on issues of child online safety, women's safety, sex trafficking and suicide prevention. Before Joining Facebook, Nain served as the Alumni Coordinator for the U.S. Embassy in India. She maintained a network of influencers across industries, government agencies, business, media, and academic institutions. Yasuyuki Shimuzu runs Lifelink, a Japanese non-profit aimed at preventing suicides and reducing extremely high suicide rates in Japan, especially among its population's technology-savvy youth. Shimuzu has brought needed public attention to Japan's suicide epidemic, and spurred the legislature to enact a law that requires all municipalities to develop concrete plans to reduce suicides. Carlos Gomez-Restrepo is pioneering new ways to use mobile technology to address the gap between mental health problems and lack of resources in Latin America. As Principal Investigator for the Scaling Up Mental Health Interventions project, funded by the U.S. National Institute of Health, Gomez-Restrepo is testing and refining a technology- and data- drive service delivery model in multiple healthcare sites in rural Colombia. Zane Wilson, the Founder of the South African Depression and Anxiety Group, is at the forefront of addressing mental illness and the stigma around it, in South Africa. The Group devotes considerable time and resources toward helping South Africa's tech-savvy and street smart youth, through anti-bullying, social and emotional learning, peer support, and other programs and methods.

Online Participation: 

Online participation will feature a remote moderator who will curate tweets, including comments and questions, and send to the panel moderator (Larry Magid).

Discussion Facilitation: 

Moderator Larry Magid will begin the session with brief introductory remarks that set the stage for a lively interactive discussion among panelists. Magid will question panelists and encourage them to question one another. He also will actively integrate questions from the physical and online audience. Our goal is to have a fruitful sharing of ideas, rather than several independent presentations.

Onsite Moderator: 

Larry Magid

Online Moderator: 

Larry Magid

Rapporteur: 

Jeff Collins

Report: 

IGF Long Report

  • Session Type (Workshop, Open Forum, etc.):

 

Open Forum

 

- Title:

 

Technology, Suicide, and the Mental Health of Youth

 

- Date & Time:

 

Tuesday, November 13, 4:40 - 6:10 PM

 

- Organizer(s):

 

Larry Magid, ConnectSafely (Civil Society)

 

- Chair/Moderator:

 

Larry Magid (In-person moderator)

Michael Luchies, After School (Remote moderator)

 

- Rapporteur/Notetaker:

 

Larry Magid, Jeff Collins

 

- List of speakers and their institutional affiliations:

 

Jeff Collins, Vice President, After School (Private Sector), male

Hrefna Sigurjonsdottir, Professor of Biology, University of Iceland (Civil Society), female

Monica Guise Rosina, Facebook Policy Brazil, Facebook (Private Sector), female

Victoria McCullough, Social Impact and Public Policy, Tmblr (Private Sector), female

Philippine Balmadier, Eighth Grade Student, Paris, female

 

- Theme:

 

Human Rights, Gender & Youth Development

 

- Subtheme:

 

Child Safety Online

 

- Please state no more than three (3) key messages of the discussion. [300-500 words]

 

  • There is a correlation between use of the internet and mental health. Hrefna Sigurjonsdottir, the General Manager of Home and School – The National Parent Association in Iceland, reported on the connection between use of the internet and a decline in mental health, but stated, “we do not know about causal factors yet although it is evident that it is important how young people choose to spend their time and we need to take care of basic needs.” She continued, “research done by the Icelandic Centre of Social Research and Analysis (ICSRA) shows us that there is a link between time spent on social media and increased depression and anxiety, especially among teenage girls and self harm is on the rise among teenage girls.”

 

  • How the public, private, and non-profit sectors can minimize detrimental mental health impacts of internet-related technologies, while maximizing the benefits. The focus of this discussion was the importance of collaboration.

 

“There has been a lot of public discussion about the issue and intervention based on cooperation. So by using the same methodology of cooperation between all relevant sectors, running evidence-based practices and working on a community level instead of a whole country approach, we might be onto something,” said Hrefna.

 

  • How proactive approaches to preventing suicide are currently working and what areas still need to be addressed. We discussed the current efforts in Australia and how their Living is for Everyone (LIFE) program can be mirrored around the world.

 

- Please elaborate on the discussion held, specifically on areas of agreement and divergence.

 

Panelists discussed how technology, and in particular social media, is affecting the mental health of young people, and whether it is causing a rise in the rate in suicide.  

 

Panelists agreed that there is a correlation between increasing social media use and higher rates of suicide globally, but no conclusive evidence of a causative relationship.  Some studies have demonstrated that prolonged use of social media can lead to negative consequences among youth. In light of this background, Panelists agreed that social media companies have a corporate social responsibility to take steps to minimize negative mental impacts and work to use technology for positive ends when it comes to mental health and suicide prevention.

 

Facebook’s Monica Guise Rosina mentioned research showing that active engagement in social media is correlated with positive emotional responses while more passive engagement is correlated to negative outcomes.

 

After School’s Jeff Collins noted that technology can serve as an early warning detection system with respect to mental health and suicide. After School, for example, uses natural language detection in its app to detect instances when users may be struggling with a difficult issue, such as pregnancy or “coming out.” In such cases, the app offers users the opportunity to connect free of charge to Crisis Counselors at Crisis Text Line. After School has assisted tens of thousands of teens, leading them to trained Crisis Counselors, which has led to over 65 active rescues where emergency medical teams were able to intervene and save the lives of teens in need.

 

- Please describe any policy recommendations or suggestions regarding the way forward/potential next steps. [200 words]

 

Panelists discussed how their respective companies and organizations and other stakeholders could collaborate to better address the mental health of youth using technology and social media.

 

ConnectSafely.org CEO Larry Magid noted that there are numerous cases of intervention on social media that have helped prevent suicide and self-harm. “Many people are alive today because of social media,” he said. He also pointed out that there is a strong correlation between mental health issues and suicide and that resilience seems to be a major factor in determining how young people will react to negative experiences, online or off. He pointed out that two people can have the same negative online experience with one becoming very depressed and the other better able to cope and pointed to expert commentary that a single negative incident is rarely proven to be the “cause” of a suicide.

 

- What ideas surfaced in the discussion with respect to how the IGF ecosystem might make progress on this issue? [150 words]

 

Due to the tight-knit IGF community, collaboration is easier to come by. By networking with other IGF members, stakeholders in the fight to prevent suicide among youth and improve the wellbeing of children and teens can work together to create a larger positive impact.

 

- Please estimate the total number of participants.

 

There were around 50 attendees at our session.

 

- Please estimate the total number of women and gender-variant individuals present.

 

Around half. Approximately 25 women and gender-variant individuals attended the session.

 

- To what extent did the session discuss gender issues, and if to any extent, what was the discussion? [100 words]

 

The panel discussed the different challenges that young women and men face when using technology. Each have different risks and expectations when it comes to social media, including how they are targeted in instances of cyberbullying, bullying, sextortion, and other issues. It was pointed out that the suicide rate among girls has risen faster than among boys.

 

- Session outputs and other relevant links (URLs):

 

Session Time: 
Tuesday, 13 November, 2018 - 16:40 to 18:10
Room: 
Salle XI

Contact Information

United Nations
Secretariat of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF)

Villa Le Bocage
Palais des Nations,
CH-1211 Geneva 10
Switzerland

igf [at] un [dot] org
+41 (0) 229 173 678